There’s a certain quintessential image of a little old lady, key word being ‘little’. Does this mean all old ladies are little, or short? Is it actually hard, then, to find a tall old woman?
In reality, it isn’t that hard to find a tall old woman. By definition of average, there are just about as many tall women in the US and around the world as short, so finding either is similar in difficulty. And with increasing life expectancies, finding a tall old woman is easier than ever before.
In this article we’ll look at what it means to be a tall old woman and possibly grandma; what affects height as women get older; life expectancy in top tall countries; problems with being a tall old woman; and even a brief note about famous tall old women. I found this research insightful and am happy to share what I learned.
- What Is Meant By A Tall Old Woman?
- Reasons We Might Not See A Tall Old Woman- Overview
- Past Events Might Mean Less Tall Old Women
- Aging Ailments Can Affect Height for Old Women
- Senior Population Contributes to Number of Old Women
- Ranking Tall (Old) Women Around the World
- Problems Being a Tall Old Woman
- Who Is A Famous Tall Old Woman?
- Takeaway for Why Is It Hard To Find A Tall Old Woman?
What Is Meant By A Tall Old Woman?
Let’s first make sure we have a standard definition of what is meant by a tall old woman.
There are two parts to the meaning of a tall old woman that need to be standard. First, a tall old woman is 2 or more inches taller than the average woman in her area. Second, she has reached the recognized age for old; in most cases this means 65 years old minimum.
Remember the set benchmark for above or below normal or average is 2-3 deviations up or down. Thus, to be considered tall, or short, a person must be at least two inches above, or below, the average height in the area/region/country for the same sex.
So, in the US women are on average 5 feet 4 inches. For a woman to be considered tall, she would need to be at least 5 feet 6 inches in height. In Guatemala, however, a tall woman is 5’1″ because the average female height is 4’11”.
At first take, it would be assumed, then, that (for example) the number of 5’6″ women in the US would become the number of tall old women at 5’6″ (baring early death). But this isn’t necessarily the case. As we’ll see in the next section, older people aren’t the same height as they were when they were younger.
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Reasons We Might Not See A Tall Old Woman- Overview
Though it’s not hard to find a tall old woman, there are some reasons women past age 40 decrease in height. These reasons include nutritional deficits such as what happened during the Great Depression; bad habits in youth and young adulthood; and old age-onset diseases and maladies.
Past Events Might Mean Less Tall Old Women
One reason that older women might not be as tall as younger women is because of their nutrition and quality of life in youth and young adulthood. These deficits could be event directed, or by poor choices as an individual.
Let’s look at two cases:
- How the Great Depression affected women’s height
- Nutrition and lifestyle choices can affect a woman’s height
The Great Depression Links To A Tall Old Woman
How does the Great Depression relate to a tall old woman deficit?
The Great Depression is tied to a recent ‘tall old woman’ deficit. Today’s (very) elderly women were babies during the Great Depression and because of hardships endured during that time period, many weren’t able to reach their height potential. This resulted in less tall old women as expected.
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The Great Depression began with the stock market crash of 1929. Within a few years, over 15 million adults were unemployed. The ensuing bread lines and soup kitchens that popped up not only point out the rise of the American poor, but also of the drop in nutrition, and health, for America’s children.
The effects of the Great Depression didn’t stop at nutritional deficiencies and stunted growth, but those problems shouldn’t be minimized when it comes to how they materialized in people like with women’s height.
Poor Habits Can Mean Shrinking Tall Old Woman
Besides nutrition and quality of life, poor choices can have long term effects on a woman’s height, too. We’ve already addressed an example of how poor nutrition during childhood like during the Great Depression can affect height. However, it’s not limited to just puberty,
Nutrition deficits can manifest in old age too. This means that decreasing height might not show up until much later. For instance, if an adult doesn’t eat healthily, experts say she is more at risk for loss in height after menopause.
Another study found a positive relationship between adult smoking and adult decrease in height in later years for women.
Besides this there is also evidence linking long term alcohol use and thinning bones and muscle weakness over time as well. And as we’ll look closer in the next section, thinning bones and muscle weakness can result in a shortening of adults as they age.
So to reiterate, a woman who had a poor diet, smoked too much, and/or drank alcohol to extremes prior to age 40 may shrink more than other elderly women during her senior years.
To read related articles on tallness and tall women, I recommend these:
- What Is Considered Tall For A Woman? (Explained)
- What Is Considered Tall For A Man? (Explained)
- Is 5’2″ Short for a Woman or a Man? (Revealed)
Aging Ailments Can Affect Height for Old Women
Let’s look more closely at what aging ailments and maladies affect older women’s height.
There are certain aging maladies and illnesses that affect old women’s height, thus making it more difficult to find a tall old woman. From shrinking spines to flattening feet to osteoporosis, certain conditions make it more difficult to maintain tallness as women age past menopause.
According to experts, people lose a fourth to an inch each decade after age 40, with women losing over 3 inches on average to men’s 2 inches by age 80 (Source: Dr. Hannan, Journal of Bone and Mineral Research).
What causes this shrinkage in our heights as we become elderly?
Well, naturally our vertebrae discs lose fluid over time, flattening, and causing our spine to push together more closely, causing an overall decrease in height.
“A little bit of shrinking is a normal part of aging,”
Dr. Roshini Raj, TODAY Show medical contributor
In addition to spinal compression due to age, our actual arches in our feet flatten more over time, causing a slight decrease in height effect. As well, the older we get, the more muscle mass we lose, according to Dr. Raj.
Besides spines and arches, Raj exclaims that the muscle loss causes poor posture, which in turn, makes us look shorter even if we aren’t actually shorter in this case.
Then, there are certain old age-related ailments like osteoporosis and sarcopenia with side-effects of loss of height.
Osteoporosis Can Thwart Tall Old Women
Osteoporosis is a bone density problem. A person can get tested for osteoporosis using Bone density testing (a DXA scan) to alert if this is an issue. This is very important for postmenopausal women because women are at much greater risk for osteoporosis than men, making up 76% of cases. (Source: Brevard Health)
We’ve all seen examples of those old ladies bent so much that they are barely able to look anywhere other than their shoes, let alone stand up straight. This is osteoporosis and it certainly diminishes height.
Sarcopenia Can Reduce The Number Of Tall Old Women
Sarcopenia is a syndrome characterized by progressive and generalized loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength….primarily a disease of the elderly (Source: PubMed.Gov). Those with sarcopenia also exhibit height decrease.
WebMD promotes exercise as the primary defense against progressing sarcopenia, which will affect most everyone in some degree or other. Using weight-bearing exercise and/or resistant-training practices are some suggested effective ways to limit loss.
However, everyone is affected by muscle loss, even if we can minimize it with exercise. A loss in our young adult height is bound to occur to some degree.
Senior Population Contributes to Number of Old Women
We’ll dive deeper into life expectancy in the next section, but suffice it to say, people are living longer than ever before. So what does this mean in regards to tall old women?
Women are living longer than ever before, but to put it bluntly, it’s normal for death to occur during this last stage of life. And this also means that there will be shortages in tall women in comparison to tall women at other stages.
Even though medical advances and better quality of life has lengthened expected life span for women, women who live longer experience more age-related illnesses and maladies. These cause other issues like falls which can be catastrophic.
One of the biggest risks for death in otherwise healthy older people is falls which make them immobile, setting up pneumonia or leading to high-risk surgeries.
Some statistics related to falls for elderly (Source: CDC):
- Over 3 million elderly treated each year in the Emergency room for falls
- Over 800K are hospitalized because of falls
- 95% of hip fractures for elderly are fall related
- Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries
This is a sad set of facts but ultimately true. My husband’s great aunt died from just such a fall and his grandmother quickly deteriorated leading to death after a fall and hip surgery. They were actually both tall older women as well.
Below we’ll look at tall women around the world and their life expectancy in other countries.
Ranking Tall (Old) Women Around the World
Life expectancy is better than it’s ever been worldwide, and specifically in the US. As of 2019, the global expectancy was almost 73 years old, better than any country in 1950. And projections for the next 30 years is for it to rise to over 77 years old. (Source: United Nations).
In the US women are expected to reach 81 nowadays, but that is lower than European and Asian women of 87 to 90 years old. (Source: CDC)
Even though the life expectancy for women has increased with each passing decade, it’s not to say it’s ideal worldwide. In Afghanistan, for instance, the life expectancy for women is 66 years old. And in Sierra Leone, it’s 55! But let’s look specifically at what this is for countries with the tallest women.
Below is a table I created showing the top countries for tallest women alongside their current life expectancy. As you can see with a glance, not only are the women in these countries the tallest, they also have some of the highest life expectancies.
So this corroborates my earlier claim: it is not hard to find tall women around the world.
Problems Being a Tall Old Woman
What problems do tall old women face? Is it any different than what tall women in general must deal with?
A tall old woman faces many of the same obstacles of a tall young woman. For instance, back, hip, neck, and knee problems are common issues for tall women. Besides this, there are some everyday problems with being tall such as finding properly fitting clothing, automobiles, and furniture.
However, some of the emotional problems associated with being tall that affect younger women aren’t as problematic for tall old women. This is because as women age, they generally become more confident and assured in their own skin; thus, those socially awkward feelings about being tall are less awkward.
Who Is A Famous Tall Old Woman?
Being tall, old, and famous is more of a newer phenomenon so we won’t find examples too far back in history. For instance, Mary, Queen of Scots, was quite tall at 5 feet 11 inches, and definitely (in)famous. Yet, she was not old when she died at age 44.
As well, we’ll see that there are more modern associations that make being tall a benefit for women, such as careers in modeling and acting where tallness is an asset.
I’ve listed some prominent examples of tall old women below, using our standard definition given at the beginning of this article, that is, “women over 5 feet 6 inches and 65 years of age”.
Tall Old(er) Women Born in 1956 or Earlier:
- Actress Kim Cattrall of 1987’s Mannequin fame is 5’7″ and born in 1956.
- TV Journalist Diane Sawyer was born in 1945 and is 5 feet 9 inches tall.
- TV’s Bionic Woman Lindsay Wagner was born in 1949 and is 5’9″.
- Comedienne Sandra Bernhard is 5’10” and was born in 1955.
- 1980s model Christie Brinkley was born in 1954 and is 5 feet 9 inches.
- 1970s model Cheryl Tiegs is 5’11” and was born in 1947.
- Ridley Scott’s Alien trilogy star Sigourney Weaver stands 6 feet tall and was born 1949.
- Actress and singer Susan Anton is 5’10” and born in 1950.
- Renowned, deceased poet Maya Angelou stood 6 feet tall and died at age 86.
- TV personality Oprah Winfrey stands 5’7″ tall and was born 1954.
Takeaway for Why Is It Hard To Find A Tall Old Woman?
To conclude, it isn’t hard in actuality to find a tall old woman nowadays. Life expectancy has increased for all women globally, including women in tallest countries.
Yet, tall old women may be reduced by some common issues such as nutrition deficits; poor habits in living; and old age-related illnesses like osteoporosis which increase risks of death.
Finally, a standard definition for tallness should be understood as someone 2 or more inches above the area norm; and old is a person 65 years of age and above.
For further reading, I suggest these related articles: